On taking a step back when you need it most

When Simone Biles, the American gymnast, took a step back during the Tokyo Olympics this summer citing that she needed to focus on her mental health, I listened carefully. She wasn’t the first sports person to hint at the crushing pressures that being at the top of your game can bring. But it came in the middle of the most celebrated, anticipated and prepared-for sporting event. Athletes are expected to be at their very best physically and mentally so that they can achieve their dreams of an Olympic medal. The idea of winning at all costs suddenly didn’t sound so enticing with the backdrop of mental health. So, to me it was telling, so very insightful, that even with all the preparation in the world, an athlete was struggling with her mental health. There’s no medal for breaking your spirit or crushing your soul and I think Simone Biles realised that.

I don’t think I have heard the words ‘mental health’ pop up in the press as much as it has in recent months. Perhaps because everyone was faced with mental health challenges of their own in those dark days of spring 2020 and the many that followed, when there was no end in sight. People reported low mood, lack of sleep, feeling isolated and lonely.

There’s a lot to be said about a shared experience. Hearing another person express the same or similar challenges makes us feel that little bit less alone. And let’s face it mental health or ill health can be very isolating. So, it stands to reason that when we see a successful athlete share her mental health challenge it had an impact and a welcome one at that. Mental health challenges can affect us all at any time and in any number of ways. Being able to address it, express it and not be seen as ‘other’ or ‘different’ has to be one of the few positives that came out of a terrible year.

I think we have all learned over the last year that strength is not just about powering through the tough times. It’s in knowing when to take a step back and evaluate what’s important. Accepting that we can’t control everything and we don’t have to pretend to either. That giving yourself permission to slow down and take your time could be the best thing for you.

It raised an uncomfortable question for me though. We aren’t all on an Olympic team. When someone is dealing with crushing mental health issues are employers in a position to support their staff? What would happen if you took a step back to recover? Would it be accepted and supported or would you fear for your job? Are we using our shared experience of the last year to try to better understand  and address the mental health challenges that people face all around us?

I hope that the debate continues. That people continue to stand up and talk about mental health in all areas of life. That we will always be able to open up in the way we have recently.

#YouAreNotAlone Fertility Week 28th October – 3rd November 2019

Fertility Week shines a light on and helps to spread awareness of fertility issues to a wider audience. It is a real issue that 1 in 6 couples in the UK face, and is something that not only affects your physical health, but something that can affect your mental health too.

Heather, our Head of Client Services, shares her IVF journey to help raise awareness on the first day of National Fertility Awareness Week – #MentalMatters…


In 2016, after 5 year of trying for a baby we took the plunge into IVF. I’d avoided it because I didn’t want a baby that way but sometimes as you become more desperate for something what you are and are not willing to try changes. My faith played a big part in me pushing though and is a big part of my life.

I’ve never been someone with an especially positive or excitable mood. In fact I would go so far as to say I have a fairly consistent low mood. I have been like that for as long as I can remember and I didn’t even realise it before this process.

I endured the fertility drugs and in many ways the process brought me and my husband, Mark, together more.

I was tired and to be honest just really could not be bothered to do anything and if I thought it was an option for me I would probably have stayed at home full stop. I stopped doing things I do to stay well, like walking my dog Pearl but I pushed through the process because the possible outcome was overwhelmingly worth it.

In August 2016 we found out after the first round of treatment I was pregnant. I was so happy although like I said, I’m not excitable.

A few months in I started to think how my experience of pregnancy was nowhere near as great as I had imagined. Then my friend said one sentence that made me realise I wasn’t great either.
“Do you know you’re a bit down Hev?”
“No, I don’t”
It seems daft now! I’d worked in mental health for ten years but I didn’t see it in myself!

I’d stopped doing what I enjoyed and what kept me well. I started getting up later, going to work, coming home and watching tv, going to bed and repeat. Every week day. No socialising at all except work. It crept up on me. I’m an introvert anyway so I have a tendency to hibernate at the best of times.

During my third trimester I started to feel brighter. The impending gift gave me something to look forward to and I felt amazing. When Eva came she was just perfect.

The fertility problems highlighted an issue in me. It made me see I had low mood. It made me see there are times when that dips into depression. It made me realise the importance of the small things I do that keep me afloat.

Since this revelation about my own mental health, I have noticed more when I have dipped. I have been able to consciously push myself to do what I know helps to try and stop it getting worse (I don’t always do this, just like I don’t always do my Physio exercises and then my back hurts again – I don’t know why, maybe lack of motivation is a symptom of the low mood).

I know I’m fortunate that I don’t have a chronic mental health problem and I can function even when I’m not on top form. The fertility process was not pleasant but what it gave me is an awareness in my own mental health and, of course, Eva.